The suicide bomber who blew himself up outside a maternity hospital in Liverpool on Remembrance Sunday had converted to Christianity at the city’s nearby cathedral, it can be revealed.
Emad al-Swealmeen, 32, who came to the UK from Iraq as an asylum seeker, was confirmed by the Rt Rev Cyril Ashton at Liverpool Cathedral in 2017.
On Sunday, Swealmeen was killed when the improvised explosive device he was carrying in the back of a taxi detonated outside Liverpool Women’s Hospital at 10.59am.
He had asked to be dropped off at the hospital after being picked up at his suspected bomb factory in the Sefton area of the city.
However, it is thought Swealmeen, who was once arrested for brandishing a knife, had been on his way to Liverpool Cathedral – a short distance from the hospital – where hundreds, including military veterans and civic dignitaries, had gathered for a Remembrance Sunday service.
Liverpool Map locator of explosion and arrests
Security sources working on the investigation said the motive for the attack remained unclear. It is unknown whether, at the time, he was following the Christian faith.
On Monday, the UK’s terror threat level was raised from substantial to severe, meaning another attack is highly likely. It comes only weeks after the murder of Sir David Amess, the Conservative MP, in an alleged terrorist stabbing in Essex.
On Monday, Boris Johnson urged the country to remain vigilant but said Britons would never be "cowed by terrorism – we will never give in to those who seek to divide us with senseless acts of violence".
One former counter-terror chief warned that concerns over a possible Christmas terror bombing campaign could be behind the decision to raise the threat level to severe. "It is almost certainly linked to Christmas. This could be the first of several – it is hard to believe it is a one-off," said the ex-Scotland Yard commander.
On Monday night, counter-terror detectives were trying to untangle Swealmeen’s background to understand what might have motivated a Christian convert to mount such an attack.
He is thought to have arrived in the UK in around 2014, settling in Liverpool. He initially lived in a property owned by a charity that helped asylum seekers but was later supported by Christian volunteers Malcolm and Marion Hitchcott, who invited him to live with them for several months.
On Monday, the couple expressed their shock and devastation at the weekend’s events. Mrs Hitchcott said: "We are both very sad. The only thankful thing is no one else was killed. We trusted him – we think he has been turned. I can’t believe that someone can live here and change so much."
Liverpool terror attack timeline
Mr Hitchcott was working as a guide at Liverpool Cathedral when he first met Swealmeen in 2015. For 18 months, he did a weekly bible study with him at church, last seeing him at a Christmas service in 2017.
He said: "Of all of them whom I met through the church, I wouldn’t have expected it to be him. I know there were mental health issues, not that I can recognise them."
Before he lived with the couple, Swealmeen was involved in an incident in Liverpool city centre which resulted in him being sectioned.
Mr Hitchcott explained: "He had an argument with the people he was living with, so he asked to be put up on the sofa for a night. Eight months later, he left. We gave him a room.
"I had known him for a while before that. He converted to Christianity. He just came to a Farsi language meeting but he spoke Arabic and the meeting was in English.
"He was very quiet but deeply moved by faith in Jesus. I used to pray every day for half an hour in the dining room with him. I don’t think he was pretending about his faith.
"He mainly communicated on his telephone and that’s how he got his information. He was born in Iraq with a Syrian father. He was abused by his father, so his mother sent him to Dubai. That’s where I think he came to Britain from."
It is understood Swealmeen arrived without a passport and tried to convince the authorities that he was Syrian rather than Iraqi.
Following his conversion, Emad al-Swealmeen changed his name to Enzo Almeni
He completed the Alpha course, a popular introduction and route to Christianity, and following his conversion changed his name to Enzo Almeni in honour of the Italian car designer Enzo Ferrari.
It is thought the device Swealmeen was carrying on Sunday went off unexpectedly as he tried to connect the detonator to the charge.
One security source said it was likely to have been built using triacetone triperoxide (TATP) – the same substance used in the deadly Manchester Arena suicide bomb. TATP includes hydrogen peroxide, which is readily available and can be found in hair bleach and some disinfectants.
Videos posted online by terrorist organisations have shown step-by-step instructions how to construct such a device. Despite efforts by police and security agencies to remove them, they are known to be available on the dark web.
New checks introduced after previous terror attacks were intended to make it more difficult for people to purchase and stockpile the precursor chemicals needed to build bombs. Hydrogen peroxide has also become increasingly difficult to obtain during the Covid pandemic because it is used in hospitals as a sterilising disinfectant.
Forensics specialists will be using materials discovered in the suspect’s flat, and evidence recovered from the scene of the bombing, to attempt to understand how he was able to obtain the materials to construct the device. They will also be trying to piece together the final moments in the taxi before the device went off.
A short time after the explosion, armed police raided two properties in Liverpool including a flat in Rutland Avenue, around a mile from the hospital. It is thought the flat, in a large Victorian house, may have been rented by Swealmeen several weeks ago and was being used as a bomb factory.
Another property raided was in Sutcliffe Street, in the Kensington area of Liverpool, where three men were arrested on Sunday and a fourth on Monday morning. They were arrested under the Terrorism Act, but it is unclear whether they were involved in any way or were detained because they were associates or flatmates of the bomber.
In a statement issued on Monday night, Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Meeks said: "Swealmeen is connected to both the Rutland Avenue and Sutcliffe Street addresses, where searches are still ongoing.
"We believe he lived at the Sutcliffe Street address for some time and had recently rented the Rutland Avenue address. Our focus is the Rutland Avenue address, where we have continued to recover significant items.
"We continue to appeal for any information about this incident and, now that we have released his name, any information that the public may have about Swealmeen, no matter how small, may be of great assistance to us."
It is understood Swealmeen was not known to the security sources, but the fact he was using more than one name will make his background more difficult to trace.